Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Psst ... you chasin' some crusty local bread?

The definition of an entrepreneur is (I would suggest) someone who sees a profitable market opportunity and is willing to take the associated risks.

Among the most efficient entrepreneurs are organised criminals: organised crime being the proof that if there's money to be made, making something illegal does little but increase the risks involved and therefore the profitability of an activity.

It appears, though, that in these times of rising food prices those original criminal geniuses, the crime families of Italy, have taken another basic business principle to heart: diversify.

The Guardian reports that: 

"According to a report released last week, city officials and investigators suspect Camorra clans are behind many of the 1,400 unlicensed backstreet bakeries in and around the city which supply hundreds of street vendors who sell loaves out of car boots - and they may be spreading into selling other basic food products.

Open 24 hours a day, the street sellers are drawing shoppers with cheap, crusty bread fresh from wood-burning ovens, the way Neapolitans like it. But police say Naples' new breed of bakers are slowly poisoning their customers by burning old varnished wood, nut shells covered in pesticides and even planks pulled from exhumed coffins. 'Whoever buys this bread is eating dioxins and carcinogenic substances and putting their health at serious risk,' said Francesco Borrelli, assessor for agriculture for the province of Naples.

Borrelli's investigation into the underground bakeries prompted raids by Carabinieri police who found dough being mixed by illegal immigrant labour in filthy, humid and mould-streaked cellars, some perilously close to burning piles of toxic waste dumped in fields around Naples by the Camorra, which was linked earlier this year to suspected tainting of local mozzarella."
Contaminating traditional bread and mozzarella? Truly, these people they got no respect ...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Puffins and beer

Where did August go?

Mostly, on finishing the typescript for my first academic book. Partly, on a two-week holiday taking in the Edinburgh Festival, Orkney and the Shetland Islands.

The northern islands are amazing, in a dramatic, remote and relatively flat way. We were too late for Puffin nesting season, sadly. There were, though, still lots of peat, sheep, Shetland ponies and ruins everywhere you turned (neolithic villages/viking long houses/castles/crofters' cottages/abandoned MOD radar installations).

One of the more amazing things in the Orkney islands is Skara Brae: the only relatively intact neolithic village in the world. It's an archeologist's dream, and it's fairly incredibly to look at still recognisable furniture (stone dresser, stone bed-box, stone pestle) that was used by real people 4,000 years ago.  I doubt our flat-pack furniture will fare so well, even if covered by sand for a few millenia.

Nonetheless, as I stood at the world heritage site, a small Philistine's voice whispered in the back of my head: "With all the narrow sandy passages, little grassy knolls and wee stone walls ... It looks a bit like a putt-putt golf course, doesn't it?"